By Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of President Donald Trump’s top re-election advisers told influential Republicans in swing state Wisconsin that the party has “traditionally” relied on voter suppression to compete in battleground states, according to an audio recording of a private event obtained by The Associated Press. The adviser said later that his remarks referred to frequent and false accusations that Republicans employ such tactics.
Justin Clark, a senior political adviser and senior counsel to Trump’s re-election campaign, made the remarks on Nov. 21 as part of a wide-ranging discussion about strategies in the 2020 campaign, including more aggressive use of Election Day monitoring of polling places.
“Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places,” Clark said at the event. “Let’s start protecting our voters. We know where they are. ... Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”
‘Let’s start protecting our voters. We know where they are. ... Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.’
Justin Clark, Trump re-election campaign
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A federal consent decree, lifted last year, came in response to a lawsuit in which Democrats argued the Republican National Committee and New Jersey Republicans had positioned off-duty police at polling places in urban areas wearing armbands that read ‘National Ballot Security Task Force,’ with guns at times visible.
Asked about the remarks by AP, Clark said he was referring to false accusations that the GOP engages in voter suppression.
“As should be clear from the context of my remarks, my point was that Republicans historically have been falsely accused of voter suppression and that it is time we stood up to defend our own voters,” Clark said. “Neither I nor anyone I know or work with would condone anyone’s vote being threatened or diluted and our efforts will be focused on preventing just that.”
Clark made the comments Nov. 21 in a meeting of the Republican National Lawyers Association’s Wisconsin chapter. Attendees included the state Senate’s top Republican, Scott Fitzgerald, along with the executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party.
Audio of the event at a country club in Madison obtained by the liberal group American Bridge was provided to the AP by One Wisconsin Now, a Madison-based advocacy group.
The roughly 20-minute audio offers an insider’s glimpse of Trump’s re-election strategy, showing the campaign focusing on voting locations in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which formed the so-called blue wall of traditional Democratic strength that Trump broke through to win in 2016. Both parties are pouring millions of dollars into the states, anticipating they’ll again be pivotal in the 2020 presidential contest.
Republican officials publicly signaled plans to step up their Election Day monitoring after a judge in 2018 lifted a consent decree in place since 1982 that barred the Republican National Committee from voter verification and other “ballot security” efforts. Critics have argued the tactics amount to voter intimidation.
The consent decree was put in place after the Democratic National Committee sued its Republican counterpart, alleging the RNC helped intimidate black voters in New Jersey’s election for governor. The federal lawsuit claimed the RNC and the state GOP had off-duty police stand at polling places in urban areas wearing armbands that read “National Ballot Security Task Force,” with guns visible on some.